U.S. Buyers of Canada's Boreal Wood: You’ve Been Had

New report by Canadian NGO Wildlands League finds deforestation rates in Ontario are fifty times higher than reported by government officials.

The old saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” For years, Canada has proudly touted its forestry practices as some of the most sustainable on the planet, bragging that logging in Canada leads to virtually no deforestation. But a new report called Boreal Logging Scars: An extensive and persistent logging footprint in typical clearcuts of northwestern Ontario, Canada by the Canadian environmental NGO Wildlands League shows that this claim couldn’t be further from the truth.

Aerial image of long-term impacts of clearcut logging from Logging Scars report

Wildlands League

Wildlands League’s new report paints a vivid picture of the long-term effects of clearcut logging in Canada’s boreal forest, using aerial photographs to prove visually that deforestation is not only widespread in the boreal, but is also wildly underestimated by Canada’s federal and provincial governments. In fact, the report found that in Ontario alone, deforestation rates from clearcut logging are fifty times higher than provincial estimates, and seven times greater than the estimated total for all of Canada.

The report found that in Ontario alone, deforestation rates from clearcut logging are fifty times higher than provincial estimates, and seven times greater than the estimated total for all of Canada.

Importantly, these findings have consequences far beyond Canada’s borders. The United States is a major driver of logging in the boreal forest of Canada. Boreal provinces send 80% of boreal wood exports to the United States, ending up in our lumber, packaging, newsprint, and even our toilet paper.

Because the Canadian government claims that only 0.02% of Canadian forestry results in deforestation, companies that purchase boreal wood products from Canada have been led to believe that Canadian forestry practices are sustainable and deforestation-free. This myth further incentivizes companies that have committed not to contribute to deforestation through their supply chain to choose Canada for their wood fiber needs.

For example, Procter & Gamble, the largest at-home tissue manufacturer in the United States, which makes Charmin toilet paper, buys pulp from Canada’s boreal forest for its tissue products with pride. P&G touts the Canadian government’s claims about forest replanting and regrowth as justification for its sourcing, even as the company is committed to not contributing to deforestation in its supply chain for other commodities.

In fact, P&G sources significant amounts of its pulp for Charmin and its other tissue products from the region evaluated in this report and the surrounding areas. This raises questions regarding the practices of those logging companies from which P&G purchases its pulp, and creates urgency for the company to reexamine and revise its sourcing policies, which NRDC has been calling on them to do for more than a year.

Deforestation in and of itself is massively destructive to ecosystems and the global climate, and this is especially true for Canada’s boreal forest. Wildlands League estimates that logging scars in the boreal will lead to 41 megatons of carbon storage lost by 2030, which is equivalent to the emissions of all Canada’s passenger vehicles for one year.

Intact boreal forest stores massive amounts of carbon in its soil

River Jordan for NRDC

This report’s findings send a clear message to any company committed to ending deforestation that purchases wood products from Canada’s boreal forest: Don’t let Canada’s claims fool you.

If logging operations in Canada are to be truly sustainable, it’s up to these purchasers to exert greater scrutiny and pressure on their supply chain, and it’s up to U.S. consumers to urge them to do so by voting with their dollars and calling on them to act. The only way to change the status quo of clearcut logging with long-term impacts is to change the financial incentives. Boreal purchasers must demand better practices now, and we must hold them accountable to that.

About the Authors

Shelley Vinyard

Boreal Corporate Campaign Manager

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